When I got this email, I knew I had to post it so we could all help this mom.
My 16 year old hates school. She is really smart, gets As. She is fairly responsible for a 16 year old. I’m 99% sure she doesn’t do any bad things (drugs, sex, burglary). But she hates school and is always trying to talk me into not making her go.
Today she was tired. (she stayed up late because she figured if she didn’t stay up late and play on the computer she wouldn’t have had any fun yesterday. This morning she was dragging and when it was time to leave for the bus (7 am) she just wasn’t ready. Starting at 7, she has 3 consecutive busses she can catch about 5 minutes apart. Today she missed all 3. I took her to school cause I didn’t want to hear her complaints and excuses, but I was really REALLY MAD! And I let her know it. So now she hates me. Cause I’m unreasonable.
I know she has to go to school. I know she is really doing well even tho she complains. I know that she has reason to be bored at school. I understand her wanting to have some fun in her day. I don’t think she really hates me.
But I want her to just suck it up and do it! How can I deal with this? — Fed Up Mom
Dear Fed Up Mom,
There was a time when I hated going to school. It was during the seventh grade. That was the year my childhood best friend turned on me, convincing all the popular kids on the bus that I was a pariah to be ridiculed and ignored. That ex-friend made sure I knew that parties were being thrown, but I had not been invited to them. She spread rumors about me, telling other kids that I picked my nose in public. It all sounds rather silly now. But in seventh grade? I was mortified.
This was also the year that all the other girls began wearing makeup. My mother forbid me to wear makeup. On the same school bus was a mean girl, a true bully. She’d stare at me and ask me why I didn’t wear makeup. I’d cower, stare at the ground, and whisper, “My mom doesn’t let me.”
And it was the year a boy — one who years later would end up in prison — took a special interest in tormenting me: knocking books out of my hands, whacking me behind the head as he ran by, and stealing my homework.
It was also the year that long, feathered back hair was in style. The summer before seventh grade, I’d asked a hair stylist to give me a trim and a body wave. She’d chopped my hair to my ears and had given me a perm that was curled tighter than my poodle’s fur.
Every morning I woke with a knot in my stomach, and I went to school feeling ugly.
I dreaded the school bus. As I rode it, I counted from one thousand backwards in my head, trying to take my mind off the fact that the other girls were talking loudly about me just a few seats away. I dreaded going to my locker. I dreaded lunch, and I dreaded recess.
I dreaded most of the moments of my school day.
Unlike your daughter, I doubt I complained. I told no one about my hatred of school. Instead, I turned my suffering inward. That year my mother took me to the doctor. My finger tips kept bleeding. The skin was peeling around my nails. He made interesting guttural sounds as he looked at each of my fingers under a magnifying glass. Then he patted my hand and said, “Stress. This is from stress.”
I couldn’t control what was happening to me on the school bus or at my locker or at lunch, so I began controlling my weight. I skipped breakfast and ate celery for lunch. I memorized the calorie count of hundreds of food.
And I did other self destructive things that I’m not going to go into here. My mother reads this blog, and the details I’ve already shared are quite enough. The point is this: I wish I could go back in time, hug my 7th grade self, and convince her to ask for help. Had I told my mother what was going on in my life, she would have been there. She would have helped me. I know that now. But I didn’t know it then. Then? I pushed her away as if she were the source of my problems.
At some point, I began falling asleep in English class. I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. I’d sit down, the teacher would start talking, and then the class would be over and I would be waking back up. I failed a test. Days later the school counselor wanted to see me. He asked me lots of questions. I doubt I answered any of them. He handed me a thick folder. “These are your school records, dating all the way back to kindergarten. I need to take care of something. Why don’t you take a look while I’m gone?” He left the room. I opened the folder. Inside I found glowing notes and report cards from teacher after teacher after teacher. Those teachers didn’t see the meek, ugly, unpopular, worthless girl who was sitting in the school counselor’s office. They saw a girl who was kind and generous and smart and good at problem solving and a natural learner and pleasant and a joy to have in class.
When the counselor walked back into the room, my eyes were red and my face blotchy. My voice was lost in the sea of phlegm in my throat. He treated me as if I were completely composed. He slid the folder back to his side of the table. Then he said, “I’m looking forward to adding a report card to this folder that says you got an A in English.” Then he shook my hand, opened the door, and walked me back to class.
I didn’t grow to love school after that day, but I did start eating again. I also began volunteering at the school store during lunch. To avoid the bus, I signed up for field hockey and other after school activities. I made a few friends, and eventually I even had a boyfriend. I helped decorate the gym for a school dance. I ran for an officer position in student counsel, which required me to create campaign posters and tape them up all over the school. It was a daring act, especially considering my ex-friend talked everyone she could into voting against me.
I don’t remember for sure, but I think I might have gotten an A in English, too.
I can’t tell you that your daughter is experiencing the same problems, but I can tell you this: You won’t know why she hates school until you ask. Even if you ask, you might not get a straight answer. Perhaps your daughter is pushing you away, treating you as the source of her problems. In that case, seek help from someone she trusts. Maybe it’s a grandparent. Maybe it’s a teacher. Maybe it’s a friend. Maybe it’s a therapist.
There might be a very good reason why your daughter keeps missing the bus, and that reason may have nothing to do with lack of suck-up-it-tude. So ask. Explore. Seek help. Be a positive, strong, unwavering source of love in her life.
Readers: If you’d like to offer some of your own advice, share stories of times when you hated school, or just commiserate that you have the same problem, definitely do so in the comments area.